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A summer when Alaskans got to wear T-shirts and shorts on ice glaciers, comfortably

Pat Forgey
At the National Weather Service's Juneau office, they've documented summer heat that’s seen 30 days of at least 70 degrees. That compares to a typical 17 days, and is far above 2012's seven days, as of mid-August. Creative Commons photos

Bright blue skies over Southeast Alaska have made this a summer to remember for the region's tourist industry.

Visitors may wonder just how the Tongass National Forest happens to become the world's largest temperate rain forest, what with the lack of rain and all.

"People are coming here on a sunny day and are, like, 'Why wouldn't everyone live here? This is amazing,’" said Betsy Dorn, tour manager at Wings of Alaska, which flies sightseeing tours on de Havilland Otter seaplanes over Juneau glaciers and to its historic Taku River Lodge.

30 days at least 70 degrees

At the National Weather Service's Juneau office, they've documented the summer heat that’s seen 30 days of at least 70 degrees. That compares to a typical 17 days, and is far above last year's seven days, as of mid-August.

"We've had much drier than normal, and significantly drier than summer 2012," said meteorologist-in-charge Tom Ainsworth at the Juneau Forecast Office. He said Juneau has seen summers with as few as one or three days of 70-degree weather.

Other measures confirm this is a remarkable summer, he said, ranging from inches of rain to heating degree days.

Those working in the tourism industry have seen day after day of clear skies and warm weather. They’ve reaped the benefits. "We've definitely seen an increase in total days flown, which is always a good thing for us," said Derrick Grimes, tour manager at Coastal Helicopters.

When the weather is beyond acceptable and actually beautiful, demand ramps up. "We've seen a nice boost in last-minute decision making" on beautiful days, Grimes said.

Glacier attire: shorts and T-shirts

Visitors to Juneau have been "pretty shocked" at the weather they've found, he said, especially those who have booked ahead and gotten the Coastal Helicopter's advice on how to dress in layers to ensure a warm trip of walking on a glacier. Nonetheless, several have been leaving their hats, gloves and scarves behind at Coastal's base when they go flying.

"We've literally had passengers going up in shorts and t-shirts this year, which is just not normal," Grimes said.

Coastal's glacier excursions include dog sledding and walking tours after landing on the Mendenhall Glacier.

Wings of Alaska has seen a boost as well, said tour manager Dorn.

"The weather's just been fantastic, and the sunshine just makes people want to go on flights a little bit more," she said.

Allen Marine runs popular whale watching tours out of Juneau, Sitka and Ketchikan, and a spokesperson said they've seen increases as well. Allen Marine's boats operate in rainy, overcast weather that grounds airplanes and helicopters, so they haven’t seen as large of an increase.

But the visitors have appreciated the weather they're gotten, he said.

"By the time you've visited Ketchikan, Juneau and then Skagway, and in each one your tour guy says 'you guys are so lucky,'" they realize how remarkable this summer has been, he said.

"If they don't know how amazing this weather is, we make sure and tell them," said Wings' Dorn.

"Those of us who live here and deal with the usual weather know this is a pretty awesome summer," she said.

Perhaps the great 2013 summer will pay future dividends for Alaska as well, said Coastal's Grimes.

"I definitely think every passenger that came up here this year is going to be going back with some pretty great stories for their friends," he said.

Contact Pat Forgey at pat(at)alaskadispatch.com